When I was asked to give a speech at an investment conference in Croatia, I was excited for a number of reasons.

Many years ago, I had visited Chile and wanted to learn more about a mining company there. Its CEO happened to be a Croatian who had immigrated to Chile and became quite wealthy. At the time of our meeting in the late 1990s, we traveled together to a large Chilean copper mine and he showed me the entire operation. I got a fairly good understanding of copper mining as well as his grand vision to convert formerly defunct state-owned enterprises in Chile into profitable companies. I remember standing with him in front of a derelict beer brewery. At the time, he told me that he would acquire it and transform it into a successful enterprise which, in fact, he did.

A number of years later, I visited Dubrovnik on the Croatian coast. A UNESCO World Heritage site, it is a picturesque, medieval fortified town. I learned that the family of the CEO I had met in Chile had a hotel on the cliff overlooking the town. I certainly was interested to see how things had changed in Croatia since my last visit.

Croatia and Tourism

Here’s a fun piece of trivia about Croatia. Apparently the necktie, a wardrobe staple of today’s Western businessman, originated from a type of neckband in Croatia called “cravat.” To remind visitors of this fact, the hotel where I stayed most recently had a basket of gifts in the room for the investment conference attendees that included a miniature magnet in the shape of a tie with the words: “stay TIEd to Croatia! The tie, a Croatian symbol.”

The metal tie had a lace pattern on it, and the package containing it said: “Pag lace – a type of lacework from the island of Pag, listed under the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List.” On the back of the package was a history of the cravat in seven languages. Apparently, in the 1600s, a group of Croatian mercenaries supporting France’s King Louis XIII wore colorful knotted scarves. These scarves were distinct and interesting to the French, who at the time used the starched linen ruffs around their necks. The idea not only caught on in France but in England where Charles II introduced it on his return from exile in France.

Unique things and good taste have not gone out of style in Croatia. It isn’t surprising that travel and tourism are a big part of Croatia’s economy—accounting for about a fifth of gross domestic product (GDP)—given its beautiful beaches, great food and mild weather.

During my recent visit, I took a short walk from my hotel on the Adriatic coast to an old fishing port town, Rovinj, located on the west coast of the Istrian peninsula. The town has a mixture of Croatian and Italian features and both Croatian and Italian are widely spoken there—both are official languages in the Istra region. Many (if not most) Croatians speak a second language.